Thursday, August 25, 2016

New Things Comin'



It is chile time. Our big box of spicy love shipped from the Hatch Valley in New Mexico to us just last week. The timing was not fortuitous, as it was also one of the busiest times of the year for me with Chicagoist, but we rolled with it, and soon there will be plenty of delicious payoff.

I didn't grow up in New Mexico, but it did catch my soul pretty quickly, as I'm sure anyone who knows me knows. The smell of chiles blistering over an open flame instantly takes me to fall in New Mexico, which, though not as varied in color, is one of my favorite things ever.  It's time for burning Zozobra and your worries from the past year, time for stocking up on the good stuff to feed you through the winter, and a fantastic time to get out and hike the beautiful canyons, mesas and mountains.

For me, chiles are the first sign of fall, and I adore fall, even if it is sneaking up on me way more rapidly than I'd supposed it would.

Still, the last two weeks  have been full ones.  Two weekends ago, I got the chance to go to Great America with my friend Erika and her daughter, who had never been before. It was a pretty excellent day, weather-wise, for the trip, and her daughter turns out to be all for the splash down, so we went on every water ride we could and some of the smaller rides in between. It's amazing how little has changed at the park, and how many memories it brought back being there. It's also really, really fun to see the park through a child's eyes.


I may even have gotten some cool-friend-of-mom's points when I decided to follow her into the splash area here.




This past weekend, it was all pop culture, all the time. I took on my annual coverage of Wizard World Chicago for Chicagoist as both writer and photographer. In fact, if you haven't seen it yet, please check out my coverage here, including the amazing cosplay shots from all four days of the show! 

Basically,  I lived in Rosemont for four days and subsisted solely on trail mix and Red Bull while taking in panel after panel of behind-the-scenes fun and stories from the likes of the X Files cast, Bruce Campbell, Lea Thompson, Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox. 

STILL ALIVE! See, eyeliner tricks people into thinking you're bright eyed and bushy tailed. Nailed it!


And sugary, bad for you energy drinks trick your body into thinking you have energy. Thank you, science!

This is not an official pic of Barrowman, it's a "omg he's running around too much this is so blurry" pic of the whole ensemble. See the article for a more, um, stable view?


John Barrowman wove hilarious tales and wore interesting things, and Carrie Fisher made me remember how much I adored Star Wars in high school and how much of Leia just exists in her, with her fierceness, kindness and humor.  If I hadn't wanted to be Princess Leia before, I'd certainly like to be like Carrie Fisher. 



She manages a self-deprecating, humorous, kind voice of an advocate, and puts action behind her words. She can admit to her own struggle with her appearance and how she chased after looking great at the same time she admonishes us and herself that beauty isn't an accomplishment and being vain is a waste of time. She can also make even those who have the hardest time speaking up gather courage and strength to do it, connecting through mutual interests and a little bit of encouragement, and she did when she invited a girl and her helper dog to meet Gary Fisher.  It wasn't just a photo op, either. It was a real meeting, and she really cared. That  much was entirely evident. 


At the end of all the panels, malnourishment, cosplay and purchase avoidance, I was left a lot exhausted and a little disheveled, but it was all worth it. 

This cat is tired and has no idea what's happening. She also wants to go back to sleep now, dammit. This cat was me every night when I got home from Rosemont.


It's been a slice, August, and I can't believe you're almost over. New things are just around the corner and I'm excited about them. 

One other thing that happened while I was Wizard Worlding this past weekend?
I officially became the editor of the Beyond page for Third Coast.
It's an exciting addition to my resume, an awesome opportunity and a little bit frightening all at once, but I'm hoping to do Nancy and her team proud and bring great stories to Third Coast. 
While remaining, as ever I have, a Chicagoista.

Let's see what happens next.




Friday, August 12, 2016

52 Weeks of Relationship- Performed for Kill Your Darlings Live Lit Event 8/10. Chicago



Maybe an early sign that he was right for me was back in our high school days. I was staring out the band room window at the blanket of gray clouds pouring rain on broken pavement, and decided I'd like to walk home in the rain with somebody.  He obliged, and walked a mile in the opposite direction of his own house, in the rain with me. And though even then, I was enamored with his sparkly brown eyes, silky dark hair and  thick pensive eyebrows, I remember it as a gesture of true friendship, and that friendship was one we kept up, even after leaving school and going separate directions for a while.

Our story is one of shared nerdery. Many years later, on an early date, we intentionally mispronounced words together and laughed about extinct units of measure. I brought him The IT Crowd and he brought me an entire universe of Star Trek.  But this is about food.





I entered the world of home cooking much the way a cartoon rat did.  Rachael Ray, she of the high-beam smile and cutesy words for ingredients, declared that anyone can cook. So I did. I made pastas and pizzas and whatever the hell a "stoup" is, and realized it was fun. I started making sauces from scratch and found it relaxing and engaging all at once. I cooked for him, hoping to impress.
I didn't know where cooking would take us. I didn't know how to long-term relationship. In the early months of our relationship, he intimidated me. He was definitely the smartest man I'd been with, the most open. He has a certain air of "cool" around him that an awkward turtle like myself only aspires to.




Our first Valentine's Day together was at his parents' house. He was and is their full time caretaker, and I wanted to help. So to fight the bitter cold, we made pot roast. With fresh herbs (I insisted) and mashed potatoes spiked with cream cheese on the side. Comfort food, perhaps the only place comfort could be found then.



He began to be interested in food, too. In a short period of absence from each other he studied fiercely, smoking meats, making candy and learning all manner of dishes. We started cooking together.  And maybe it doesn't seem surprising now, but I was taken aback when he mentioned a "52 Weeks of Cooking" challenge he'd seen on Reddit and asked me if we could do it together. Spend a lifetime trying to get boys not to ignore you and have one suggest a 52 week long activity, and your jaw, too, would be on the floor. The challenge itself was simple. Each week, the moderators of this online community would present a theme. We would cook according to whatever technique, cuisine or ingredient was presented, and post pictures of our results.  Armed with the new DSLR he'd gotten me for Christmas, we plunged forward.

Diet Food, Ice Cream, Alcohol- we made bananas foster for that one, and not only did we NOT burn down the house, we got amazing pictures of the flames leaping forth from our saute pan. We also got lots and lots of upvotes. (explain here?) We started photographing each dish from start to finish, and so began our obsession with making things as "from scratch" as possible. (went so far as making butter)



One of our earliest successes was French Silk Pie. After a little research, we hit upon a beautiful, flaky butter based crust recipe, and he turns out to be an incredibly good pie maker.  I double boiled and folded and the combination was heaven. I learned his kitchen, how he learned, how he worked. We learned together, watching Good Eats as a primer to everything kitchen-related.
But it's not all fun and games, not 52 weeks. We once waited 12 days to receive Australian wattleseeds for a self-saucing pudding that....self sauced itself into a microwave flash flood. There were camera fails, oven fails, and visits to 5 grocery stores without being able to find a damn blade of lemongrass. Even though we had 3 weeks to post from when each theme was announced, with work, caretaking and life, it could get down to the wire.





Sometimes, one of us was sick, and the other was left to stir and photograph alone. Sometimes, we were in an argument, but we still had to make a bunch of egg salad for the Easter theme, and it wasn't getting any earlier. Once, the theme was colors, and we decided to go against the grain and choose Purple. I cannot tell you how long it took us to come up with something, but Martha Stewart to the rescue, we had a radicchio and eggplant pasta that was pretty purple. No thanks to Martha, it was pretty but also quite bitter, and the dinner crowd at our house was not amused.








We even travelled with the challenge. We were fortunate that our trip up north to Door County had us staying in a suite with a little attached kitchen and our hotel was right in front of an amazing bodega, and even more fortunate when the theme for that week was "Hangover Cures" and we made some killer late night breakfast sandwiches. I learned to make his dad's recipe for Hungarian goulash with him. He learned how to roll the golabki my grandmother and I made together, and did it better than I did. We later presented my 90 year old grandmother with that dish and won her full approval. We went whole hog during Concession Foods week and made handmade corndogs, funnel cakes, and big, shiny soft pretzels.  A little trivia for you: getting that mahogany brown right requires food grade lye. You know, the kind that can dissolve your entire arm? Gear was acquired and worn, and a mad scientist was born.











We tackled making bacon, smoking salmon, and handling a PSMO tenderloin (that's 'peeled, silver skin, side muscle on, which I didn't know). Sometimes, our exploits kept us up well after sane people had turned in. On one such occasion, I attempted to make tiny little apple rose tarts with the sunrise as a backdrop. During surf and turf week, when beef tenderloin and snow crab were on the menu, we were in a real groove. Potatoes were baked, beef was being sous vided, and crab was steaming. Unfortunately, the sky was turning a sickly green, and while some of us were still enjoying the fruits of our labor, the tornado sirens sounded and we had to ferry five cats and a few people to the basement and leave it all behind.  Week 52, I'd picked out snickerdoodles for our cookie theme, thinking the comforting pillowy cinnamon cookies would delight my sweetie and we'd finish in a beautiful sugar coma. What instead came out of our oven, I dubbed Snickerdon'tles.  Flat as pancakes and entirely too salty, I sadly snapped shots of my most personal fail. Up it went. But as I went to throw them away, there he was, popping a few in his mouth while reaching towards me for a hug.  "I think they're pretty good, anyway" he said.











It wasn't perfect. We didn't gold star that finish. Some weeks we hated the challenge. Some weeks, pans and doors were slammed.  Sometimes we had no idea what we were doing. But we kept going. We kept learning, we kept creating together, and when I think of all that time spent chasing internet points, trying to figure out what a good video-game inspired dish might be, and taking 100 shots of one freaking lemon, I can't help but see how much I learned about this whole damn long-term relationship thing. It's a marathon, but one you get to run with your best friend. Over and over again. On this week's menu? Video game inspired burritos, and a whole lot of love.


Thursday, August 11, 2016

How I Win




I'm going to tell you a story.
It's going to be true.
It's gonna suck you guys, because it's a true story about the suck that this week has been.

Have you ever felt like life/the universe/everything is just conspiring to kick you, grind your face into the sand, pour tar over you, feather you, stand you up and send you into the expressway at 5:30?
Cuz yeah.

But this story, though it is seeming to END with me under the blankets eating Milanos and crying, isn't just suck and give up and curl up and die.

Because in the midst of this crappy, crappy, soulcrushing week, I did something to make myself better. I did something brave, and for myself, and to combat my own complacency.

Tonight, at 7 pm, I read at a live lit event for Third Coast, at ComedySportz Theater. Read. Out loud. All me and no instrument. With my words in front of me.

See, I've always written. Back to 5th grade, I've had journals. I filled an entire book full of poetry in high school, some of which I actually don't cringe to read nowadays. But it was always under wraps, or lock and key, in the case of some Lisa Frank diaries past...

It took a long time and a weird path to get me to show those words to anyone. Even weirder paths to get me to Chicagoist, and more recently, Third Coast. Even still, my most frequent quote about speaking is that "I don't word good out loud. That's why I write."

Speaking makes me nervous. Speaking makes me unclear and uncovered. Speaking makes me the only one speaking, in this case, and my words are supposed to ...mean something? Make someone laugh?

But there I was. Late, flustered, sad to see no familiar faces in the crowd, though it is a weeknight and most people left in the area had kids or work to tend to tomorrow...but there I was.

One hand gripping the bottom of the music stand (perhaps something of a safety blanket since music stands and I go way, way back, performance wise)....another trying to make decent eye contact while I told a story. A love story. A story about how love (and food, since it was the night's theme) are messy and sometimes suck and it's arduous and long, but hopefully, you can make things, grow, and learn.

And then I got in my car, tried to back out of my space, and smacked my passenger's side mirror on the cement wall of the garage. And then I tried to make a quick stop on the way home and ended up at Addison and Clark just as the Cubs game ended. And then I was home in 2 hours, not one.

And then, at home, I thought I'd be able to relax and unwind and tell stories and maybe put some happiness out there. And that solidly didn't happen. So I thought I'd go to bed. Well, it's 3:14 so you can see how well that's gone.

So yeah. Yeah life, you screwed me up this week. Yeah, I didn't help myself.
But at least I read.



Saturday, July 23, 2016

Love! (And Marriage and Light and Darkness and Hope).


Can't help but notice lately that there's not a ton of happy just lying around in stockpiles. And I'd try to maintain that it wasn't affecting me except for the fact that ever since the Pulse shooting I've been having recurring dreams about being at the store, at a movie, at a park...and suddenly being caught in one without knowing the status of my loved ones or knowing if it was safe to run. I don't know why those dreams didn't happen with PAST incidents, but...brains are strange things.

I think I've been quiet because I'm trying to wrap my brain around things that your brain shouldn't wrap around.

But that's not what today is about. That's not what this is about. Today, a person I knew since he was 3 years old and who I had the occasion to babysit, got married. To a girl who it is absolutely obvious adores him.  A beautiful, kind, zest-for-life sort who could tease a smile out of a grizzly bear, from what I know of her.

And as I saw the pictures post, I saw the overflowing happiness. And a thing I noted, upon studying it...is that I think it'd have just exploded with happy vibes no matter where it was. Because I know the families of the bride and groom are THRILLED. I know they feel like they're expanding their own families. I know the bride's family loves the groom and vice versa. No one had to say it, it's just massively evident in the preparations and in the little community surrounding them.  And ok, everyone has their dream weddings. Fall, somehow lilacs, candlelight, whatnot. But what I want most is that happiness. That light, airy feeling of LOVE. The "today is exceptional because my whole family welcomes someone new into it and we are ALL excited" feeling.

I didn't think about how someone ten years my junior is getting married, I didn't think of my life and whether it was missing anything, I saw people I care about smiling from ear to ear in photos. I saw new bonds and old bonds and dancing and laughter and lightness. Did it rain today? I'm sure not one person there noticed if it did.

Soon, there'll be another wedding. A dear friend of mine, much closer in age to me, has found someone that SHE adores and who adores her. And having known her for even longer, I know how her heart ached to find someone who would hold on to HER and her heart the way that he does. I've seen him go out of his way to protect it with the actions he took even as he struggled.  I've seen the family rally around it and make room to expand. What a celebration it will be to see the man that earned a heart as big as hers by having a matching one he committed to her take the final steps and become man and wife.

It's stuff like that that reminds me why weddings, why marriage. It's not tax breaks, it's not a guarantee, it's not somehow going to make things easier with relationships...it's to shout LOVE from the rooftops. It's to blend families together and make new memories. It's to say "Today is for love. Today we celebrate these people and the beautiful thing that THEY have that no one else can have."

Maybe we can't control....anything. Things seem dangerously off the rails and people seem to forget that love comes first, and that you can love someone and disagree with them. That hate and violence won't EVER be the answer.

Know what we can do? We can put that love vibe out there. We can keep loving, and keep celebrating love, and remember why it's important. We can know that love isn't magic, and relationships are work, and struggle and hardship, but we can celebrate how MUCH love can change, and all the ways love wins.

And maybe tonight? We'll have better dreams.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Soy Un Chicagoista





I spent a gorgeous day in my favorite city this past Saturday.  And, being summer, things were in full swing.  Pride Fest, Puerto Rican Fest, Cubs games and concerts were on the menu.  I had an incredibly booked day, with a first meeting with my colleagues at Third Coast Review, who I just started writing for, an amazing opportunity to interview Jonathan Coulton and Paul and Storm at the Cards Against Humanity office on the north side, the Garfield Park Conservatory's corpse flower, which had decided to bloom after a brief fakeout during the week, and the JoCo and crew concert at the Vic that night. It was writing, photography and nerdish glee for me, but in doing it all, I also found a moment of my own pride. Or a few.

The first time it hit me, it was when I had successfully navigated Broadway in Lakeview during prime brunching hours DURING Pride Fest. After a few circles, I found a teeny tiny spot in front of Intelligentsia, where I a)really, really needed to sit down and polish my interview questions and get prepared and b) really, really wanted my most favorite coffee drink in the entire world, which is their Black Cat iced latte. Seriously, it makes every other iced coffee seem like a watery mess. There's a reason why Intelligentsia is such a sought after coffee brand, and they extrapolate that out to the people and techniques at their cafes.

So, without a second thought, I parallel parked perfectly in a tight spot on a busy street.

Maybe you don't drive. Maybe you were born with the parallel parking gene. Maybe you never got sideswiped on another busy city street because a bus didn't see you and forced you to move a lane or risk a crushing death. I don't know.

What I do know, is this was a combination of things I couldn't do and was afraid to do, and I didn't even blink. Once the interview questions were calmly, cleanly typed out and I was on latte #1, I had a chance to reflect, and in that moment, I was proud to overcome a fear.

Next on my agenda was the interview.  And what didn't start off well turned out to be fantastic. When I got to the CAH offices, all the doors were locked. It was really hot out, and the doorbell wasn't bringing anyone to let us in.  I was early, but my earliness was slowly becoming "on time/lateness."

Luckily, the awesome PR person I'd been working with let me know things were fine, and someone would be right down. And oh, by the way, Jonathan Coulton is stuck outside too and should be coming along soon.

Now...if you know me the way I know me, and the way some of my closest friends know me, you know one thing that racks me right up with fear are interviews. From day one with Chicagoist, whenever I had an interview, I was excited to get the opportunity and terrified in equal measures. Some know me as the awkward turtle, and even if that's going too far, what I *am* is certainly an introvert, which makes breaking the ice....well....dreadful. But it turns out that, when you're stuck outside on a muggy Chicago day waiting for a door to open...you have a mutual, shared pain. It also turns out that Jonathan Coulton is extremely nice, and of a kindred nerdy spirit, and by the time we got in, the interview seemed, as good interviews should, in my opinion, more like two people having a casual conversation.  I listened back over to it just tonight, and both his segment and the simultaneous one surprised me. I've had some pretty awkward interview moments, where I got caught off guard by an answer (or no answer) or lost my place and panicked...and...this wasn't that.  And because it wasn't, it's going to turn into something neat that I've never been a part of before, which I'm incredibly excited about.

After that, I got a chance to check out Persephone, the newest corpse flower on the scene. When a staff member asked me about myself and what I did...I actually mentioned that I was a writer and I'd written the piece about Persephone for Chicagoist. Turns out I was talking to the director of the conservatory, who I'd recently interviewed on the phone, and got a chance to have a one on one talk with her and network a little bit more for future stories. Had I been a wuss like normal and not said much...I'd have missed out on a great face to face and some great stories, including the dilemma they were facing about getting persephone OFF display.

And last? I met up with one of my more recent friends, and a former colleague at Chicagoist who I both admire and relate to a hell of a lot.  She's been where I've been and beyond, and we talked relationships, writing, food and family, and it was fantastic.

Lately, I've been a lot about what I'm not, and a lot about what I need to be, and a lot about what I've been in the past that I'm not measuring up to now.  It's some of the rocks I mentioned in the last entry. I just haven't felt like me is much, you know? Or that I've made progress and become something different and better than I was.

But tonight, in reliving my Saturday, I see a more organized version of my younger self.  One who is still awkward and introverted sometimes, but can also speak intelligently with heart.  I saw a person who didn't let herself be defined by past injuries and didn't give a second thought to the things that used to scare her, and I saw someone who was actively pursuing something that she didn't (and sometimes still doesn't) think she's capable of or worthy of.  I saw someone who knew herself, spaced out her day well, and treated herself without breaking the bank....and I felt good.

An old blog of mine was called non sum qualis eram- I am not what I once was. I picked that for motivation to become more than I was then.  Today, I can confidently say that is the case.  I'm nowhere near done, and it's likely that will be a motto I take with me my whole life...but I'm glad that today, I can see more than what I fail to do.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Back Back Train- Fight The Power


There's been some rocks lately. I haven't talked much about it, because I'm sick of sharing about my rocks. I'm sick of being on the rocks. I wonder if I'm just rocks and that's all I am, you know? Throw me in the water and I'll sink like a stone, can't swim anymore.

This is sounding crazy grim, no? So Mom, if you're reading, or aunts and uncles, let's not get crazy. Surely, before, you've had a point in your life where you feel like everything's upside down, or even just one thing you really care about is upside down.  Surely you've felt like a big lumpy box of rocks. It's human. It sucks, and it's human. Ever notice how most of the things that people consider the most human are sucky? Just a thought.

There's something else there though, and maybe it takes being a sad sack of rocks for a while to get to it.  There's fight. There's struggle.  There's the urgent need to get things back online.

I need to get things back online.

I need to fight.

If I feel, or am made to feel, like a worthless, shitty person, I need to take a long look at it.
Yes, there's the part where you analayze and go "Hey, did I do something crappy to someone?" "Have I maybe hurt someone or stepped on toes or crossed lines? How can I fix this?"
It's hard to look at yourself and realize you can be selfish, rude, oblivious or downright crappy.
It's hard to realize you've wasted a lot of time.

But it's stupid to stay down. It's stupid not to fight. It's also incredibly stupid not to realize the things you are that are good, too. Don't throw yourself out with the bathwater, you know?

It's stupid not to try again. Try harder. It's stupid to stop if you fail again.
It's stupid to look at something or someone and say I can't.

So...no stupid.
No worthless.
Now's the time to use the drive I've always had to prove myself for good, and not to my own detriment.

I don't care what you see when you look at me. I don't care if you think I'll sink or swim.
Watch me fly.


Thursday, May 5, 2016

New Wave- Day One with the HTC Vive


You guys...it's the future outside. Hold onto your hats, and I'll wait here while you look outside. Dancing, sorting, emoting robots...little tiny pocket computers you take everywhere...VR.

That last part just came to be in my realm today, when the HTC Vive arrived.  I pause here to say I am only writing this for my own amusement and to hopefully help others who are curious know what it's like, I've not gone all product placement on all of you.

I'm not going to go specs, suffice it to say your computer has to be pretty darn decent to be able to run it. If you're blessed enough to have that and are able to get a Vive...it is pretty amazing. We set it up within a half an hour, and as soon as we played around with the first little programs, it was impressive. The Lab software you get with it is a LOT of fun, and everything has that sort of Valve/Aperture/Portal flair to it.

The controllers fit your hands really well, are rendered perfectly whenever you're wearing the headset as if you were actually looking at a non virtual copy, and for whatever reason, make everything you do that much more immersive, from shooting a bow and arrow, to picking up and manipulating things, to becoming....

LORD OF THE SONGS!

One of my favorite moments in the few hours I've been around the Vive came in playing AudioShield. It's a simple concept, and kind of a simple program. It's not trying to make you feel like you're in the real Atlantic, or the real anything. What it IS is you and your music in space, as an incredible, surrounding game a la Guitar Hero. For some reason, the pure fun of punching/shielding out the beat to any song you have on your computer just got me all misty-eyed. It's the meeting of playing a game and actually doing things, kinda like DDR, but...even more amazing.  Instead of you hitting arrows on a pad lying on the floor in front of you, it's you and this open space and all sorts of crazy, pretty, glowy orbs waiting to be blasted into colorful confetti as you move along to the music.

I *love* the ability to have a big play space to move around in.
I love the controllers.
I love the Valve/Steam/Portal flair.
I ABSOLUTELY love AudioShield and can't wait to try TiltBrush, which is an immersive art experience.

I think Vive knows exaaaaactly how to produce a sense of awe with the technology it delivers. I think it knows that fun is fun is fun, and I'm really, really excited for the whole thing to become a little bit more accessible to everyone and more refined.

Is it a little weird wearing what feels like a slightly lighter brick on your face and having a cord running down your back? Yeah, a little. But with no motion sickness to report (coming from someone who gets motion sick from regular PC games and 3d movies sometimes) and all the amazing fun I'm having...I fail to care. Vive is really, really neat, and a whole new kind of fun, and I'm looking forward to more adventures.